I THOUGHT this week we could perhaps think of taking a stroll around the town, walk off some extra calories and take the chance to enjoy some of our town’s historical buildings.
For this stroll, we should start at the Place St Maur des Fosses. This area was constructed following the re-development of York Road into the new Regis Centre, which was opened in 1980, alongside the flats of Mountbatten Court. It is difficult to believe that this area in the centre of our seafront was completed only 38 years ago.
From here, we should walk towards the town hall, passing, on our left, one of Arun District Council’s Blue Plaques. This indicates the premises where Dante Gabriel Rosetti worked in 1875 in the stable of his home. These premises were until recently the garages for a group of solicitors and have been converted into flats.
Our next major construction, of course, is that of the town hall, which was opened in 1929, after the closure of the council’s building in the High Street. This was one of a number of developments in the town, around the time that King George was here to recuperate.
It was felt that the town was in need of an imposing town hall. It is interesting to see the number of different stones that were incorporated into this building to act as a memorial to the builder, architect and council representatives of the time.
Next, we continue inland, along Clarence Road, passing the Roman Catholic church that was opened in 1882 by a group of monks. This massive construction would, at that time, have been very imposing in such a small seaside resort that was still only slowly developing. Previously, there had only been a small meeting area near West Street to accommodate the Catholics in the town.
Turning left, we will stroll along the High Street, which contains a variety of buildings built at varying times in the town’s development.
First was one of the town’s post offices, which was opened in 1926, after having a variety of previous sites throughout the town centre. Walking further along the High Street, on the opposite side, we see the Lock Centre, and it is quite difficult to realise that this was originally the town’s fire station built in 1899, as shown on the top façade of the building.
Next door we have the William Hardwicke, which was opened in 1810 as The New Inn and was eventually changed to The Sussex Inn. It was built to accommodate the coach and horses that would travel down from London and pass through the town on their way to Portsmouth.
The name of William Hardwicke commemorates the name of the original builder of the New Inn. He is buried in South Bersted churchyard.
Opposite the William Hardwicke, we have a public house. Originally a private house constructed in 1870, over a number of years its front rooms were to become used as a restaurant. However, it was not until 1947 it was to be a public house known to many people as The Orlando.
For a small number of years, it became The Hogshead, before being renovated and renamed The Beach House and, recently, it changed name again to Ocean’s and now it is The Punch and Judy.
Further along, you see a shop with a number of original green glazed tiles that formed the outline of the public house, The York Inn, which was built as a post house in the 1830s. Next, of course, we find the impressive Arcade, which was begun in 1901 by William Tate the local Bognor builder.
This was just one of his constructions throughout the town. At one time, one of the shops in the Arcade was Timothy Whites, but as the town centre was developing, they were able to buy new premises opposite at a cost of £17,000. This site is now the Santander Bank, but was originally the United Reform Church, who sold the church and site, as it was becoming quite noisy for parishioners to worship quietly.
On the corner, next to the Arcade, we have now Howards cafe, but this building has been home to a wide variety of businesses. During the 1880s, York House occupied it, and the Arcade was built in the grounds of the house. The businesses in the adjoining corner premises have included a bank, job centre, Burger King and now the T Bone Burger bar, a far cry from its original use as a private residence.
Across York Road, we have another impressive building. For years, E. Lawrence Wood – who was a publisher of books and postcards – occupied this site. This was also another post office as well as a general store and today is an estate agent.
If we look across the road, we can see a solicitors’ shop, which was the site of Bognor Motors and originally a Wesleyan Chapel. Further along we had the very popular Torbay Fisheries, where today we have William Hill.
Continuing along this side of the road we come to the car park for Morrisons but for many this will always hold memories of the Southdown bus depot, with its distinctive art deco frontage.
However, until 1929, this site was occupied by the town hall until it moved to today’s site.
How many people can remember a restaurant in this vicinity which I think was very well used and much loved by Bognorians – that of the Polly Anne restaurant. Although there have been quite a number of restaurants and cafés in the town, it is usually the name of the Polly Anne that evokes the most memories.
Next to this was the imposing wall of the Merchant Taylors Convalescent Home, which was eventually demolished in the 1950s ready for the construction of the impressive Queensway and Fitzleet House. Well, this was the view in the 1960s when it was reported that the town was forward looking by building these two major developments.
The corner building, on the opposite side of the road, which today contains several small shops, was for many years occupied by Webster and Webb. This site was also for a time one of our many post offices, but was originally known as a library and reading room.
Webster and Webb became renowned for producing a wide range of postcards and pictorial books on Bognor, which forms such a good basis of the information that I and other local historians use. Here also you can find Heygates Bookshop.